Bob Forrest Guest Sports Writer
The Ada News
Before Tuesday’s $775,000 bond issue passed, Vanoss was a 21st Century school with a lot of mid-20th Century facilities.
“It was huge for us to pass this,” Vanoss superintendent Janet Blocker said Wednesday, one day after the community voted to finance a series of badly needed improvements at the school. “We have bathrooms that haven’t been improved in 50 years that are grossly outdated, we have heat and air units that are just limping along. Many of them are in excess of 20 years old.”
Blocker said the district has been able to make some improvements in recent years with money that was already available when she became superintendent in 2008. She added, however, that new financing was critical if the school district was going “to move forward.”
“We had made tremendous improvements over the last three and a half years using building fund money and qualifying zone assurance bonds,” she explained. “Before I came, (the district) had borrowed $200,000 at 1.67 percent interest over a 10-year period, and when I got here they hadn’t spent any of that money.
“We made more improvements this summer and we completed our five-classroom addition with the bond that was previously passed, but we were at a point where we couldn’t continue to make improvements without passing another bond,” Blocker added. “We’ve been able to continue to move forward, even with the cuts to our budget, and with the community partnering with us we’ve been able to continue to make improvements.”
Among the projects targeted by the bond issue are construction of a science lab and store room and remodeling the science classrooms.
“The stuff that we have in there is almost original,” she said. “When I came here, the classrooms had the original heating units, and they were in excess of 50 years old.”
Money will also be spent on the construction of a new ag barn (“we have a very active FFA chapter, and this will enable our ag students to house their animals there”) and the addition of state-of-the-art lighting for a new softball field that is already under construction.
“With softball, we need to make some improvements because we’re in the process of constructing a new softball field with annexation money,” Blocker noted. “We were going to use our current lighting, but with this bond passing we can put in new lighting that will be more energy-efficient and equivalent to what we have at the baseball field.”
Blocker said passage of the bond issue was even more impressive considering the timing of the vote.
“April isn’t the prime time to pass a bond,” she said. “At the end of the school year you don’t have as positive an attitude as you do at the beginning, plus people have just gotten through paying their property taxes and filing their income taxes, so I was very pleased that the bond passed. On top of that, we had the negative campaigning concerning the firefighter sales tax (which was defeated), so I was happy that our community stepped up and passed this.”
The current Vanoss school enrollment of 565 has risen only slightly during Blocker’s tenure, but she said she will match her school’s overall performance against any in the area.
“If you look at our test scores, we compete with anybody in Pontotoc County,” she said. “We want to expound on that and improve our facilities and our athletic programs, and we’re making great strides in those areas.
“We wanted to touch as many areas as possible with a minimal tax increase,” Blocker explained. “Our annual tax increase will be between nine and 10 percent, which is about 30 dollars (per person) per year. That’s not much money to spend on kids.”